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Five Questions with Bolts From The Blue ahead of Bills vs. Chargers

Bills Mafia heads to Thunder Alley for a date with a Chargers team at the crossroads

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills took off for the West Coast on Friday, getting ready to face the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night of Week 16 — and with a massive amount of work left to do if they plan on making it to the postseason.

In their way is a potentially dangerous Chargers squad that has little to play for other than pride (and incentive-based pay, for some... certainly). After the team’s demoralizing loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 15 and the dismissal of head coach Brandon Staley and general manager Dean Spanos, Chargers fans are rightfully down on the team. It serves as a reminder that it’s not always sunny in California.

This week I spoke with managing editor Michael Peterson and editor Kyle DeDiminicantanio, both of Bolts From The Blue to get a pulse on the Chargers.

Following the upheaval within the organization, are the Chargers motivated by pride and on the threshold of rebound or already checked out? What’s at the heart of the defense’s struggles? Plus, we chat potential missing pieces that would allow for quarterback Justin Herbert to meaningfully enter MVP conversations, and learn about a couple less-heralded players for LA.

Of course, we also tackle what’s at stake today and what interim head coach Giff Smith’s first game in the chair could look like, plus Michael lets us know about a tailgating experience not to be missed if you’re heading to the game.

1. If you were to gauge the voltage of these Chargers, what stands out most to you — are they a team motivated by pride and set to rebound this week, or one checked out and ready for the offseason?

I wish I could say that I’m confident the Chargers will be motivated and should come out against the Bills with a vengeance, but I can’t quite do it. The way in which the team seemed completely and utterly checked out against the Raiders isn’t done seeming surreal and it’s tough to just think that team we watched would turn it around in the span of nine days. Some players will be more motivated than others in terms of either playing for a new contract elsewhere or for the sake of keeping a job with the new regime, but overall I don’t think it will culminate enough into an effort that keeps them competitive against Buffalo.

2. Speaking of the offseason — the Chargers’ 2024 cap situation doesn’t look great, given their investments on defense and what’s materialized on-field apart from Khalil Mack. What’s behind the Chargers’ struggles on defense... is it as simple as injuries to key players or is there more to the story?

I firmly believe that this idea that the Chargers have a great roster is being held up by members of the media who don’t know better. Sure, this roster to begin 2023 looked pretty good but it was top-heavy. There has never been depth to this team and when injuries piled up on top of other seemingly good players turned out to be let-downs this season, you get the underwhelming product that we’ve seen thus far in 2023.

Mack has been incredibly refreshing. Joey Bosa has missed far too many games the past two seasons which hasn’t helped him live up to his massive extension he received several seasons ago. There aren’t many words to describe just how much of a debacle the J.C. Jackson signing was. They don’t have any players you’d call an “enforcer” aside from Mack or Derwin James, the latter of which seems like a shell of his old self this season.

A recent story just dropped by ESPN’s Kris Rhim that focuses on the “disconnected” locker room under Staley. I’d suggest everyone to read it who wants an inside look at how things supposedly were behind the scenes on the defensive side of the ball. But the TL:DR version is that Staley never found a way to make opponent’s adjust to his defense. He spent his entire tenure having to adjust to their opponents and that’s a tough task to ask of your defense for almost three consecutive seasons.

3. Justin Herbert is a phenomenal quarterback who likely deserves more praise and mention within the top echelon of NFL QBs vying for MVP status season after season. Is there a missing piece that would allow for Herbert to enter more of those discussions?

I think he simply needs more protection up front and a “usable” run game. Now I didn’t say a “good” run game, just a usable one. I can’t imagine how he’s felt the past two seasons having to throw the ball 40 times per week to give his team even a semblance of a chance to win. I’ve talked with former NFL quarterbacks and quarterback coaches. All of them have vouched for how tough Herbert’s life has been recently without anyone to rely on aside from Keenan Allen. As for a pass-catcher, Herbert deserves a dynamic player who can make something happen from anywhere along the formation. He would have loved Zay Flowers or Jordan Addison. Unfortunately, they gave him Quentin Johnston who, despite being young with all of his career ahead of him, certainly hasn’t started nearly as hot as any of the other top wideouts who were drafted around him.

Heck, I’d be wrong to also not bring up how much his defense continues to let him down, as well. Since 2020, Herbert has a 5-20 record when the Chargers defense allows 28 or more points. This season alone, the Chargers’ two highest point totals have been 34 and 31. They lost both games.

4. Apart from the obvious names, who are the lesser-heralded players on either side of the ball that Bills fans should know more about?

Offense: WR/KR Derius Davis could be one to watch in this game. He’s mainly used as a returner but the Chargers have seen success when they’ve designed plays for him. He had a rush for over 50+ yards against the Raiders in Week Four and has gain chunk yardage on several other jet sweeps.

Defense: EDGE Justin Hollins hasn’t been with the team all that long but he had a sack against the Broncos two weeks ago and continued to see an increase in snaps against the Raiders.

5. The current line at DraftKings Sportsbook has the Chargers as huge underdogs at home. Should they pull off the massive upset that Vegas seems to believe is needed, what went right? Furthermore, how do you see things playing out for Giff Smith in his first go as interim head coach?

If the Chargers pull off an upset, it’s because every player on both sides of the ball went off. That’s what it will need. Austin Ekeler needs 150 yards from scrimmage and multiple touchdowns. Quenton Johnston would have to go off for over 100 receiving yards and a long touchdown. Khalil Mack would need three sacks while Asante Samuel Jr. and Derwin James would need to combine for three interceptions. If those things do not happen, I can’t see any chance for an upset.

As for Giff Smith, I just hope he can find a way to make his players play hard with little to nothing in the way of motivation. He’s an old-fashioned coach who has been described as blunt and straight-forward. To be honest, that’d exactly the kind of coach that this team needs right now.

6. Bonus Question: If you’re a local-market Chargers fan, tell me about the tailgating experience — what’s ritual for many during a home game? Also, what’s the best-kept secret visitors to the LA area should know about?

I am remote from Minnesota so I unfortunately have no experience or advice on tailgating. All I know is you should find the area called “Thunder Alley” and the rest should take care of itself.

My thanks to both Michael and Kyle for taking the time to chat with me ahead of Bills-Chargers. To read my responses, head over to Bolts From The Blue for the companion article linked here (and on the Buffalo Rumblings home page).

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